Traveling in London can be daunting never mind traveling to London with kids. I know friends who live on the outskirts who won’t even try it, let alone families who are more use to getting stuck behind a tractor than a mouth breather on the tube! So I thought after a few epic fails I would share some tips for traveling to London with kids, navigating your way around and avoiding the same blunders as me.
I mean I’ve stopped a London Underground escalator. When the two front wheels of my pushchair fell off with Wilba still strapped in and The Boy clinging to my top. The contents of the basket came rattling down the now stationary stairs – including a couple of poorly hidden tampons.😬 As I apologised to the trapped underground passengers wedged behind me I was met by a very disgruntled looking tube worker, who kindly handed my orange super plus back! Any-hoo here’s some of my top tips.
Plan Before the Trip
A contact number in your child’s coat pocket, backpack, or even on their arm with a sharpie is a must. You can buy special bands like you have at festivals but I’ve always used the former. Also, remind them that it’s there so if it does come to it, they can show whoever needs to know.
Then have a chat about what a responsible adult, policeman or tube-worker looks like and what to do if you do get separated (I avoid saying lost). Discuss where you’re going and lay down the ground work! Lots of positive reinforcement during the journey and rewards after sensible behaviour makes every trip easier and easier. Mine are now getting pretty good, thank the lord, but we’ve had some hairy moments I can tell you. But don’t let that put you off – just manage the risk.
Congestion and ULEZ Charges
We’ve been stung recently by the new ULEZ charge that they tell you has been well advertised. However the majority of my followers on the gram were unaware! Basically if you have an old diesel or petrol car and enter the Central ULEZ zone you’ll get an nice £80 fine if you don’t pay the £12.50 daily rate online. I say old diesel car but the cut-off is around 2015 so just check your details before you go. The ULEZ zone is similar to the congestion zone and there are plans for both to move further out over the next few years. Like us, just keep checking the site for updates. Unlike the congestion zone which operates Monday to Friday ULEZ operates 24 hours everyday of the year. You can check where the zone is and if you’re required to pay by heading to the website. There are however ‘Waze’ around it 😉…
Waze is a navigation app for your phone that uses real-time data from its users to provide up-to-the-minute information and guidance whilst following your route.
The free app calculates the fastest routes available and notifies you of any upcoming hazard. It does this by monitoring user movements which appear like little ducks and other characters as you drive. We pulled up alongside a number of Uber drivers who were clearly using it too. You can also report traffic information if you want to help out other motorists. Wazers (Waze Users) then help to build a clear picture of what’s going on so it doesn’t just rely on local authorities for the info. If you do add alerts about hazards and traffic you can collect points for prizes.
The best bit was the ‘avoid tolls’ feature which allowed us to circumnavigate the ULEZ zone, sometimes with bum-squeaking closeness, to avoid paying the charge. It also gave us up to date information about traffic, road closures, speed traps and temporary speed limits which really stresses me in London. One minute it’s 30 then 20! I don’t think I would be without this app now when traveling in London. It’s obviously best with 4G but does store a map if you go offline. Just make sure you don’t go the wrong way!
Even with the Waze App, we still took screen shots of the route we were driving every now and again just in case we needed to prove anything at a later date. Just keep your eyes open and hopefully you’ll avoid the traps.
The Underground and Public Transport
Naïve Cookie tried to pre-plan a journey with a buggy using all the stations with lifts! I don’t know how disabled passengers even use the underground as the information is sketchy at best and the lifts often require extra walking (defies the object surely) or don’t come out where you want them to. Talk to most tube workers and they’ll say the same. So next time you see a buggy on an escalator don’t be so judgemental, it’s ruddy hard and they’ve already had to make the difficult decision to risk the elevator in the first place. Officially your not supposed to use them with buggy’s or you must collapse, but it can be really tricky especially with a sleeping baby.
Only if desperate! That’s my opinion and all I’m saying about the matter… never again 😂
Ubers and Rickshaw
We don’t have Ubers in Norfolk and when I first used them in London a few years ago they were mega cheap and a great way of getting about. Like most successful ventures the price inevitably goes up and some people try to work out ways of ‘playing’ the system! This happened on a previous trip where an Uber driver over charged me, I knew he had gone the wrong way as it was a route I was familiar with and in all fairness after I challenged it with the app I was refunded. I’ve been informed this isn’t a one off. Some will even say they are being diverted because of roadworks or taking a longer route to ‘avoid’ traffic, so be careful.
The prices are also variable. I researched prices for our trip in January and added to the itinerary so my family knew what to expect. On the day we traveled the prices increased on the app due to demand! It seems at peak times prices can go up. You always agree the price prior to booking though so just make sure it would not be cheaper calling a black cab because of convenience.
Another very green and super fun way to travel (if your not a sensitive passenger) is a Rickshaw. I used one with the kids to make a long tube journey with multiple changes more bearable by crossing over to a different tube line and the kids had a blast. Make sure to barter the price down though and don’t be afraid to walk away and approach a competitor for a price your happy with.
My nemesis. I hate paying for parking and since a train from Norwich would require us to basically re-mortgage our house, we are often forced to drive. Central London on a weekday is a no go so we usually park outside and tube in. Under 11’s are free on the train and all public transport for that matter. This is the cheapest way, I just swipe my contact-less bank card and off we go.
Westfield is as good shout or my JUST PARK app often finds good cheap places. Saturdays and Sundays we usually risk it. We avoid ULEZ zones and look for on-street parking but beware the new Saturday rules where some places are only free after 1pm . You must also make sure you have read the sign properly and it relates to where you’ve parked. When we went to the Science Museum we found different signage for parking spaces right next to each other. Make sure you snap of the parking notice just in case and picture of the street with your mobile so you can find your way back later. But don’t attempt it if you don’t like a bit of a hike.
Walking vs Pushchair
Pushchairs are a vital bit of kit in London for anyone under the age of 6! The boy’s 7 and he’ll sometimes still complain. I would recommend a light-weight one you can fold up easily. Something like you’d take on holiday so it’s not so cumbersome. Pushchairs are also good for shoving coats on, especially if like me the tube feels like a sauna within seconds.
If you do decide to walk make sure you break up the journey. A harness backpack like the one above are a godsend. You can use it to keep your TubeMap in, and those all-important emergency snacks.
For older children I have a pre-existing rule with The Boy where when I say “On my Six” he grabs the back of my coat and stays there until I say he can walk by my side again. This is obviously when my hands are full with his sister and phone (navigating).
Well, I hope that’s been helpful. Traveling to London with kids can be great fun. Please do comment below if you have any great ideas for London travel.
Have fun Crumblers and stay safe!